Quebec’s students respond to repression with mass defiance

In what organisers are calling “the biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history”, hundreds of thousands defied the Quebec government’s new draconian Bill 78 and took to the streets of Montreal on May 22 in celebration of the 100th day of Quebec’s student strikes.

Students refused to submit the march route to the police, as is required under Bill 78.

The protest was quickly declared illegal, news the demonstrators greeted with a massive cheer.

Bill 78 is undoubtedly an attempt to crush the increasingly radical movement fighting against the 75 per cent student fee hikes. Quebec Solidaire co-leader Amir Khadir says “it aims to criminalise and destroy student organisations.”

Bill 78 includes a ban on demonstrations within 50 metres of a post-secondary institution and severe financial penalties on students or teachers and their organisations if they picket or otherwise protest in a manner declared “illegal”. Demonstrations of 10 or more people must submit their intended march route to police eight hours in advance.

However, rather than suppressing the struggle, the legislation has in fact radicalised the movement and extended its reach. Non-students have joined students on the streets in nightly “casserole protests”. Inspired by the Chilean “cacerolazo” protests against Pinochet’s dictatorial regime, Quebecois have initiated a nightly ritual of rattling pots and pans on the streets and from balconies and inside homes in support of the students and in opposition to Bill 78.

“This is about people power,” said Carlos Luer, a 53-year-old children’s worker who was attending a casserole protest for the first time.

The fight against Bill 78 has brought unions into the campaign. Just weeks ago, Quebec’s major trade unions were advising the student organisations to accept a bogus deal from the government. Union contingents now have a sizeable presence at the nightly protests.

This increase in union support has given the radical student union CLASSE the confidence to call for a “social strike”. They said in a statement: “The student movement cannot remain alone, and must be joined by all of the forces that make up our society and make it live.”

Quebec’s “Maple Spring” is translating into a broader struggle against neoliberalism and austerity politics.Vancouver activist Derrick O’Keefe says “it is now clear that we need to have an open discussion about the direction of our society. The current model, where governments give billions in tax cuts to profitable corporations and high income earners, and then plead poverty as they slash our social programs, is broken.”

Geraldine Fela


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